Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 4: Fourth Blood

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I shot down a small UFO and sent a team out to assault the wreckage. I looted some valuable alien technology, met a new kind of alien and nearly get a lot of people killed. Nearly, again, being the operative word: so far, none of my actual personalized soldiers have died. I’m… I’m fairly okay with this. Hopefully things will stay great forever.

The XCOM base is a hustle of activity and good spirits. While the world is still under assault by highly advanced, unknowable alien forces, the general consensus seems to be that we’re doing pretty alright. So far we’ve halted an abduction, shot down one of their craft, and saved an innocent woman from alien captivity. Not a bad score, if I do say so myself.

Eyes are cast to the future. In order to progress in our understanding of the invaders, we’re going to need to try to capture one of them. Alive. Dr. Vahlen’s team is hard at work researching a close-range stun weapon called an ‘Arc Thrower’, while dr. Shen’s crack Engineers set out to expand the base. I order them to Excavate one square to the right of the Access Lift, which makes that area available for facility construction, and to expand the Access Lift one square down, which opens up the second layer to work with. As a bonus, the second layer has a Steam square, which… I don’t actually know yet why that’s good. Maybe it’s bad? Regardless, I’m digging down anyway.

Lots of hustle in the German XCOM branch today.

It looks like this in reality, incidentally:

I feel it lacks some of the *charm*, though.

With that done, I still have a decent amount of credits in store. This might be a good moment to look at an option I’ve actually already skimmed over earlier, but ignored due to lack of money: the Officer School.

It’s more of a correspondence course, really.

The Officer School, in a nutshell, allows me to research various upgrades for money: these upgrades are unlocked by soldiers reaching various ranks. Right now, for instance, I can increase my Squad Size to 5; I would need a soldier at Captain rank or higher, though, to unlock the Squad Size 6 upgrade. Most of these upgrades are tailed at making the whole squad more effective, with such options as ‘increased experience from kills’, ‘higher Will bonuses on levelling up’, and ‘less time spent in the medbay’.

For now, I have enough money to either unlock the first Squad Size increase or the +25% Experience From Kills one. That’s not a terribly hard choice, I won’t mind telling you.

The Officer School is a pretty neat facility, and one of the elements that make Classic Difficulty harder is the fact that you do not start with this facility in your base (as I have here). Of course, facilities have drawbacks, too: mainly upkeep costs. Here, look at my balance sheet:

This marks the first, and perhaps only, time I look at this screen.

While mucking around in the Situation Room for a bit, I stumble upon another interesting tidbit the game hasn’t actually told me about: the Gray Market. Here, I can sell the various alien loot I collect for credits. Hey, remember how I said I had enough for only one of those two upgrades? It turns out that flogging a few Sectoid corpses — to who, exactly? — allows me to get both. Steve warns me to not just sell everything willy-nilly, because the Research teams may have need for them later, but a) there’s a clear ‘This Item Has Not Yet Been Researched’ indicator on certain items, and b) I hardly think Sectoid corpses are going to be in short supply, here.

Future Jarenth’s note: I know there’s a little more to it than that. Stick with me, here.

With my upgrades upgraded and my credits spent, it’s time to Scan for more activity. And by that I mean, burn time waiting for things to happen. It doesn’t take long: after two days, both the Arc Thrower and the Alien Containment Facility are completed. I don’t actually have the credits to buy one of these Arc Throwers, though, but we’ll burn that bridge once we cross it.

After a short Research side-trip into Weapon Fragments, which grants me the S.C.O.P.E…

Fun fact: I dislike this item for no discernible reason and almost never use it.

…I order dr. Vahlen to start her research into the alien invaders by way of an autopsy on the Sectoid. This triggers a little cutscene in which the good doctor narrates what we know of the creature, while a masked lab assistant cuts into a dead Sectoid, spilling disgusting body fluids all over the camera.

What, you thought that ‘dr. Vahzilok’ crack I made earlier was *just* a joke?

Before the autopsy can be completed, though, the Council once again requests my presence. I’m to rescue ‘a friend’, who has come under attack by alien forces in Australia.

How or why you become a ‘friend’ to the Council is never explained.

Sure, why not? Money, Engineers and Panic Reduction. I’m down.

Because I’m well-aware I can’t keep relying on the same four soldiers forever — and also because Val is in the hospital and because my Squad Size is 5 now — I decide to bring a few Rookies with me. Dima the Heavy, Tovik the Sniper and Jones the Support will be accompanied by Rookies Alan DeHaan and Tyler Clark, like so:

Team Fantastic Victory, go!

And we’re off!

Another fun fact: you get to watch this movie every single time you embark on a mission.

This mission, like the earlier Council mission, revolves around finding an NPC and escorting them to the Skyranger. I like to think we’re pretty good at that, by now, even if Tovik nearly bit it the last time. Let’s try to make that not happen this time.

From the looks of it, we’re at a pedestrian road crossing somewhere. I open up by dashing several men into cover, and quickly run into a singular Thin Man, just kind of standing around. It skitters off immediately, though.

But not before posing for this picture.

I try to move some soldiers to hit the Thin Man, but it remains stubbornly out-of-range. I set Sniper Tovik to Overwatch behind a nearby planter, but the Thin Man just does the same. Oh, so that’s how you want to play it? The world’s most extra-terrestrial game of sniper chicken?

Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Rookie Clark bravely dashes forward, avoids the incoming reaction fire and takes the Thin Man down. Humans 1, Aliens still zero.

If you’re wondering what that mess next to the Thin Man is: he was originally hiding behind a bench. Then I had Dima shoot at him.

I move up, encounter and murder a Sectoid, and find some NPCs. Not the one NPC I’m looking for, though: that one — one Thomas Hutch — has “Made a break down the street […] as soon as we started taking fire.“. Yeah, that’s probably smart.

Two more Sectoids show up: one skitters off into the middle distance, while the other bravely gets shot at. It’s at this point I learn an important lesson: ‘Up to 4 damage‘ does not mean ‘Four damage all day, every day‘. Clark shoots the Sectoid and hits, but only deals two damage. It’s actually weird to see an alien survive being hit like that: most of them explode like slurry balloons at the slightest touch. This Sectoid, clearly a champion among its people, manage to survive getting shot, and rather than running away to safety actually stick around and shoots back. It misses (an encovered Dima), of course, but I’ve never been so close to having respect for these Sectoids as I am now.

Perhaps out of that kindness, I order Dima to lay down Suppressing Fire. That ability doesn’t actually damage the Sectoid, but it reduces its aim and gives Dima a free reaction shot if it moves. It’s also pretty cool graphically: Dima actually steps out of cover repeatedly, in intervals, and uses his LMG to lay down a hail of bullets.

This screenshot brought to you by Muzzle Flash Enterprises.

The turn after that, the Sectoid goes down (courtesy of Tovik) and I reach Hutch. As before, reaching the NPC causes Thin Men to drop out of the sky at random intervals, but I’m used to that by now. And aerial drop skills and sinister Overwatches are no match for Assault Rifle bullets to the gut.

He didn’t even get a chance to pose all dangerous-like.

Two Thin Men die this way before Hutch reaches the safety of the Skyranger. Mission over, right?

Wrong. I still need to mop up ‘any remaining aliens’ before I can leave. O…kay. I thought I did? Did I miss any aliens? Did more Thin Men drop from the sky? Well, whatever, I’m just going to sweep the map, then.

I decide to start at that cute little bridge in the northwest. Because DeHaan and Clark are already pretty close, so I order the latter to Dash across the bridge.

Straight into the Overwatch fire of that last Sectoid I completely forgot about.

While Clark is an old hand at dodging Overwatch fire, this alien is just a little too steady on the aim.

Fuck. Four damage. Fuck fuck fuck. Clark is seriously wounded and only in half cover. Which means that if that Sectoid shoots him again

What do I do? DeHaan is close, but he can’t actually hit the alien, and his Frag Grenade has insufficient range. Ranneko Jones has a medkit, but he’s way too far away to be of any help. Tovik has Dashed already. Dima has his Rocket, but he’s Moved already as well. Fuck.

In a last-ditch attempt, I move DeHaan out into the open, in an attempt to present a better target. But it’s no use. The Sectoid takes aim at Clark, shoots and hits. Two damage: Clark hits the pavement.

I quickly run Jones over with the medkit, but even before he gets there, the game’s popup — and the expanding pool of blood — preemptively dash my hopes. Rookie Clark is no more.

The first one is always the hardest.

Denial turns to anger. Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be, huh? Well, you know how we here on Earth like to send off our fallen soldiers? With fireworks.

Dr. Vahlen pops in to remind me that explosions destroy alien artifacts. I kindly tell her to *shut the hell up*.

And that’s it, too. Mission over. If I’d been less impetuous… or I could have given him a Nano-fiber Vest. Would that have saved him? Or does damage cap at remaining hitpoints? No, wait, it doesn’t. Damnit. He didn’t even get to throw that grenade, too.

Back in the base, another round of promotions is handed out like candy. Rookie DeHaan becomes Heavy Squaddie DeHaan, the second in our squad to take up the Mantle of the Rocket Launcher. Sergeant Tovik gets a choice between either Damn Good Ground (giving +10 Aim at and +10 Defense against targets at lower elevation) or Gunslinger (+2 damage with pistols), which given my track record with pistol use — that is to say, none of it — is not a hard choice. Corporal Jones gets a choice between either Sprinter (three extra tiles of movement) or Covering Fire (which allows Overwatch to trigger on enemy attack as well as movement): I pick the latter, because it sounds more interesting, but it’s a hard choice. Maybe if Jones had had the extra movement…

Rookie Tyler Clark gets no choice. He’s appended to the Memorial Wall: the first ever XCOM soldier to fall in the line of duty.

Those three other names? No, I don’t know either. They came with the wall.

I also unlock the Workshop facility, for some reason, but listen: I can’t really pretend to care right now. I’m still a little pissed off at myself at how preventable this death was. Maybe I’ll do something with it next episode. Maybe not.

Next episode: More daring-do, with markedly better results this time.


  1. Nitpick Resurrection: Revenge of the Remarkanator:

    – Those other three people on your memorial are the soldiers that died in the tutorial.

    – Damn Good Ground is pretty situational, unless you deck the Sniper out in Archangel armor.

    – Covering Fire is good for Supports that don’t focus on healing. A rare breed, indeed.

    – The best way to deal with Thin Men raining from the skies is to spread your men out and put them on Overwatch first, then trigger whatever causes them to drop out of the sky.

    – The S.C.O.P.E. (oh, how I loathe that name) is actually pretty decent for Snipers and Heavies.

    – Please tell me you did not sell that UFO Power Source.

    – Sectoid corpses *will* be in short supply from a certain point onwards, as they will be completely replaced by Mutons and Floaters.

    1. “Damn Good Ground is pretty situational, unless you deck the Sniper out in Archangel armor.”

      Given as that Sniper has Snap Shot rather than Squad Sight, pistols (and therefore Gunslinger) aren’t as useful, so I’d call this one the right choice.

      “The S.C.O.P.E. (oh, how I loathe that name) is actually pretty decent for Snipers and Heavies.”

      Yes, a thousand times. I used to only bring Heavies on missions because I felt bad about leaving them out altogether. Now two Scope-wielding Heavies make up the backbone of my teams.

      1. While it’s objectively probably an odd decision, I don’t think I’ve used the S.C.O.P.E. more than… twice? Once, maybe? The last time I had someone use it, it ended in their death; death that would have been prevented had they been wearing a Nano-fiber Vest instead.

        Increased accuracy? You can keep in, thanks much. I’ll be over here, trying to keep my dudes alive.

        *Emphasis on ‘trying’.

        1. Squad Sight means you’re never in danger of being hit anyways.

          In my fourth game (the only noteworthy one so far :P), I ended up giving Scopes to all my heavies and snipers, sometimes my Support(s), and anyone not competent enough to fire at medium range (ie. Cpl and lower rank). Guys with heavy armor and invariably Run and Gun trigger the aliens, guys with scopes demolish them. Don’t need health if you don’t get shot more than once :P

          That said, they were an… uncommon sight during Terror missions. Only my sniper carried ’em then.

          1. Never in danger of being hit? Tell that to mr. ‘my light plasma rifle gives me +10 aim, so suck it, Sniper man’ Muton the second. You’ll see what I mean.

          2. I have never had my sniper get shot by Mutons if I could remotely help it (ie. Skyranger ambush doesn’t count). *shrug*

  2. Aaand now, the nitpicks and opinions.

    “Another fun fact: you get to watch this movie every single time you embark on a mission.”
    Unless you skip it. For some reason, this isn’t always allowed; I could never skip the Firestorm’s (spoiler; there’s something called Firestorm) animations. Oh well, they’re fancy.

    “I’m not sure what’s up with the way these aliens hold their guns”, paraphrased because /effort
    Far as I’ve been able to discern, those Plasma Pistols are damn near grafted to their arms; they don’t really seem to ‘hold’ it.

    I like Covering Fire, although its hit chance sometimes feels a little low. My guys are never further than one dash apart not counting Snipers, so Sprinter was pretty much as-situational. Don’t really favor one over the other.
    Damn Good Ground, I basically never take. Pistols are good at getting a target on low health, moreso if they actually deal any damage at all. On top of that, Scopes grant the same aim bonus, but from any elevation.

    1. The thing with Covering Fire is, and I’ve already written this up for a future episode, but why not replicate it here: returning fire on attacking aliens means those aliens have to feel comfortable enough to shoot in the first place, and that means they’ll usually be in cover. Which means ‘Covering Fire’ becomes ‘an Aim-penalty shot, at an enemy likely in cover, that’s only triggered after it has already tried to murder someone’. And at that point, why not just take the shot in your own turn.

      I get that Covering Fire is meant to reduce wasted Overwatch turns — “Haha, silly human, we’re just not going to move” — so in that sense it’s not bad. But you’ll notice a point in the Let’s Play where I just start ignoring the Covering Fire option in favour of Sprinter completely, all the time, forever.

      1. Yeah, I know what you mean; hence my comment about its accuracy. Still, I so rarely benefit from Sprinter (whereas Covering Fire does something even if it misses) that I don’t really care either way.

  3. Also, the S.C.O.P.E. works well with an Arc Thrower, granted you have a support with the perk to carry two misc items. And even then, one of those two should probably be a Med(i)kit. It’s a very situational item, especially effective on snipers, and you can also improve it – although I’m not sure *how much* it actually gets improved. If its bonus doubles it would become very effective on lower-rank soldiers.

    On the other hand, I never used the nano-fiber vests. I researched new armors pretty early and found them to be much more effective than a simple +2 HP bonus.

    1. While it’s true that Armor > Vest, there’s no reason not to use them both; the Vest is an misc-slot item, after all. Cuts down on the medbay time too.

  4. First to die, eh? So this must be what disappointment and pride feel like at the same time.

        1. First person to die that actually had a chance of living. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, you decide.

        2. First person whose death you could actually avoid, but didn’t. Just… rubbing it in. *lalala*

  5. Relevant: http://threepanelsoul.com/2012/10/15/on-surplus/

    The 4 character limit in the beginning feels a bit forced. It can, and likely does, help learning the ropes but making you pay for it feels nonsensical, since it’s basically an arbitrary limit not related to an in-game world explanation.

    (And something stupid doesn’t count. It’s just six units, you hardly need a Tactical Interface Machine That Supports More Than Four Buggers to make it happen.)

    The original had limits too, of course, but they were tied to what you used to ship your meatbags to the missions.

    This wouldn’t bother as much if six wouldn’t feel necessary due to the class system and feel like a perfect balance in general.

    1. See, I knew I’d read that joke before. -1 on sourcing for me.

      Something something your guys need to be ‘high-ranking officers’ to unlock larger squad sizes. Something about leadership abilities? It still doesn’t make any sense, though: after unlocking the 6-man squad, you’re totally free to just send six Rookies out.

      I guess a system whereby squad size is determined by highest-ranking officer present could be sorta-realistic, but that would a) be hard to implement and balance and b) suck.

      1. Yeah, that would be terrible. ‘So you lost all of your best men in one mission, huh? Hope you enjoy doing the next one with four rookies’.

      2. They could just unlock another slot every two missions or so, meaning you’d get to the fifth mission with a full team, and just handwave it as “more experienced personnel in the communication room being better at handling field events” or something.

        A BS explanation, but at least you wouldn’t be tied to the double helping of an arbitrary cost & unit level requirement.

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